Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the 2014 International Bar Conference in Tokyo on 19 October 2014. In doing so, he spoke of the Hague Convention; it would have been surprising had he not done so this year of all years. In an otherwise brief but thoughtful speech, the first part of his remarks about the Convention are wholly out of sync with what the Convention is about; such was the dichotomy between what he was initially saying and what he was purportedly addressing, it was as if his subject was some other issue altogether. What he said was this:
Furthermore, Japan in particular is participating actively in international efforts to aid women in their efforts to gain further skills and to protect and promote women’s rights. On April 1 this year, the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Hague Convention) entered into force in Japan. Japan is actively involved in efforts to resolve issues of child removal, in accordance with international rules.
Manifestly, the Convention is not about ‘women’s rights’ any more than it is about ‘fathers’ rights’. The Convention is not framed as a rights-based instrument at all but as a mechanism to safeguard the best interests of children. The only reference, in the Convention, to the concept of rights are the rights of ‘custody and access’, rights which, it has to be said, are regarded as mutually inclusive by the Japanese courts (i.e. they are vested in one parent alone). All of this goes to show how the Convention is misunderstood in Japan – and why Japan was so slow to sign it in the first place. It is about protecting children. It is an instrument designed to bring about the legitimate aim of quickly putting right the civil wrong of child abduction before lasting harm is done.
Mr Abe’s last sentence does, of course, more directly touch on that very issue but it belies the fact that it cannot sensibly be said that Japan is ‘actively involved’ in efforts to resolve issues of child removal. All the indications so far are that Japan is simply not doing so on any meaningful level; in over 6 months there have been no returns from Japan despite the prevalence of child abduction in that country. There is nothing to indicate that anything is being done about those abducted children who are not covered by the protection of the Convention. Mr Abe is far from alone in Japan as regarding the entering into force of the Hague Convention as having solved a deep-seated problem; it has not.